California Highway 49 Ride July 2005

by Dave Schultheis

Saturday, July 9, 2005 - San Jose, CA

This was to be a south-to-north ride along scenic California Highway 49, The Gold Country Highway, from the small community of Oakhurst (near Yosemite National Park), to the tiny community of Vinton, about 15 miles east of Portola CA and about 30 miles northwest of Reno NV. I would meet Mark H. near Casa de Fruta (east of Gilroy) and we would then ride over to Chowchilla to meet others.

I was awake about a minute before the alarm sounded at 4:20 a.m. Since I had packed virtually everything the night before, all I had to do was dress, comb, pack a few last minute items and load the bike. The "soft lowers," to protect against the early morning cold, were on the bike.

I started the Road King at 4:52 a.m., just a little later than expected, and hoped that the neighbors would sleep through it. I put on my lucky green shirt, face protector, jacket, vest and winter gloves, closed the garage door and departed at 5:00 a.m.

There's a 76 station right around the corner, so I stopped and fueled, noted it was 68 degrees F., called Mark H. on the cellular phone, and got on the road in earnest. As you can imagine, there wasn't much traffic.

Northbound Meridian, eastbound Coleman, northbound Almaden Expressway, southbound CA Highway 85, southbound U.S. Highway 101, eastbound CA Highway 152, quick side trip down CA Highway 156 to the San Benito/Santa Clara County line, then back onto Hy 152 for less than a mile, met Mark at Walnut Avenue at 5:55 a.m., where he had only been waiting a few minutes.

We proceeded east on Hy 152, into the rising sun, past Casa de Fruta, over Pacheco Pass, past Dinosaur Point, past San Luis Reservoir, past Interstate 5 and into Los Banos. Most of the traffic lights were green, since it was still quite early.

By 7:00 a.m., we had ridden another 30 miles, and stopped at CA Highway 233 to call Dennis M. to let him know we were almost there.

It's only 3 miles from Hy 152 to Chowchilla, where Mark and I greeted Dennis & Vina and fueled, then we kept going immediately, riding over CA Highway 99 on Robertson Boulevard, which changed to Avenue 26. We turned onto Road 29, then Road 603, then Road 600.

Somewhere in there we found some of the tallest whoop-de-doos I've seen in a long time, but I didn't have time to stop and make notes as to exactly where they were. I was a little concerned that some idiot would be driving the wrong way and we couldn't see him, but we were lucky and the road was clear.

We got onto Road 415 and rode through Raymond, then continued to CA Highway 41 in Coarsegold.

If you turn right, you'll get to Chukchansi Gold Native American hotel casino, but we turned left and rode north into Oakhurst, then turned onto Highway 49 at about 8:20 a.m., 113 miles from home.

Shortly after we passed through Oakhurst, we made an unscheduled stop at a wide spot. Dennis had been stung by a bee and his left temple was swelling up like a cantaloupe. Vina attended to the wound, and we got back on the road in short order, passing Ahwahnee, Nipinnawasee and Bootjack, then stopped at the Pioneer Gas Station in Mariposa, 78 degrees F., where I discovered which fuel pump had a non-working auto-shutoff valve, and gave my Road King a gasoline bath. Station personnel were less than helpful, but I found the water hose and rinsed the gas off the bike as best I could.

From there we continued through Mt. Bullion, Bear Valley, Coulterville, and Chinese Camp. Hy 49 runs with CA Highway 108 for a short distance, and shortly after we passed Jamestown Harley-Davidson, we were rerouted around a traffic accident in Sonora, but we still had to stop several times in the downtown area before getting back onto open road, and passing through Tuttletown and Carson Hill.

Our goal was to arrive in Angels Camp around 10:00 a.m., but there was just enough traffic through the little towns that we didn't get to Perko's parking lot until about 10:45 a.m., where it was 84 degrees.

I had thought that we were going to have breakfast, but Dennis ("crack the whip") informed me that there wasn't time, and that if we fooled around too much, we'd be riding after dark. None of us wanted that, so we waited a few minutes for one more bike (Bruce & Alison), then continued north on Highway 49.

We made another fuel stop in San Andreas at 11:20 a.m., which took us into Jackson right around noon, where we stopped at Mel & Faye's for hamburgers, steak sandwiches, and cold drinks on the patio.

We continued north on Hy 49 through Martell, Sutter Creek, Amador City and Drytown, then Plymouth, also known as "Ol' Pokerville."

We passed the bridge over the Cosumnes River, which is the border between Amador and El Dorado counties, but the bridge was too narrow and there was too much traffic to get a photograph, so I let it go.

We passed Nashville, El Dorado and Diamond Springs before stop-and-go-ing through Placerville ("Old Hangtown") and across U.S. Highway 50 at the traffic light.

We made it through Coloma (state park) and Cool, and then I had another opportunity to get an El Dorado County sign photo (one point) (on another bridge), then I caught up with the rest, and we crossed Interstate 80 in Auburn, and up to Grass Valley (2:40 p.m., 84 degrees F.), where we stopped in the shade behind a gas station for a few minutes and consumed mass quantities of cold beverages and reapplied sun block.

We made another quick stop in Nevada City for an incoming phone call, then continued up Hy 49 through the forest, through several little towns, the most notable of which was Downieville, where Hy 49 makes a hard right turn and goes across a one-lane bridge.

Along the river, numerous kayakers, bicyclists and fisherpeople were enjoying their particular sports, so we had to slow down a lot, use caution, and avoid pedestrians, vehicles, and equipment at the side of the road.

We paused for a little more refreshment in Sierra City at 4:25 p.m., where it was 80 degrees F. After that, we rode through Bassetts, past a big sign way up on the side of the hill saying "Bikers Beware, Dead Man's Curves, 15 Miles Ahead," and over Yuba Pass (6701 feet).

We stopped at a vista point to see the Sierra Valley (5000 feet), one of the flattest places I've seen in a long time. Who knew that there was another high plateau up that way?

Below that, Bruce & Alison peeled off and rode up to the motel to check in, while the rest of us continued on Hy 49, through Sattley and Sierraville, then stopped in Loyalton for fuel at 5:50 p.m., before continuing another half hour to the end of Highway 49 at Vinton CA.

We took some "END 49" photos and congratulated ourselves on making the 315 mile trip. But the day wasn't over yet. "Crack The Whip" led us on the last leg of the trip.

We turned west on CA Highway 70, the Feather River National Scenic Byway, and rode through Portola and Blairsden, then into Cromberg, where we stopped for the night at the Long Valley Resort at 6:50 p.m.

Dennis & Vina and Bruce & Alison were in a two-bedroom cottage with a snow skiing theme/decor. Mark & I negotiated with the owner and checked into a two-bedroom, two bath cottage with a western theme. Each cabin included a large dining/living/family room, kitchen with stove, refrigerator, microwave oven, dishwasher, pots & pans, tableware and utensils, plenty of interior and exterior lights and ceiling fans.

Either one of these places would be perfect for a couple or a small family to spend a weekend. But we were only there for the night, and reservations were made at a restaurant about a half mile down the road, so we didn't need to use any dishes.

We arrived at the Mt. Tomba Inn right around 8 p.m., saw all the John Wayne movie memorabilia, and sat down to a nice dinner. I had navy bean soup, salad, pork cutlets, mashed potatoes, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Bruce had a nice big slab of prime rib, and others had various other entrees.

We rode back to the Long Valley Resort about 9:30 p.m. and tried to make a silent entry, so as not to bother the neighbors. I took a shower and went to bed. There may have been some lies told and beverages consumed in the other cottage.

Miles for the day = 511.

Sunday, July 10, 2005 - Cromberg, CA

I slept well, but was awake at 4:00 a.m. I manged to get back to sleep, and then got up shortly after 6:00 a.m. I knew we didn't have to leave until around 8 a.m., so I washed, dressed, combed, and packed, and then read the resort directory, including a history of the area and the story of the resort itself.

The bike was loaded and I was ready to go at 7:30 a.m. It was 54 degrees F. I noticed dusty kitty footprints on the saddle of Mark's Sportster.

The first stop of the day was to be breakfast at a restaurant in La Porte, so we checked out at the office shortly after 8 a.m. and got going.

We took a short side trip into Quincy to refuel the Sportster and get coffee for Alison. It warmed to 74 degrees and then 76 degrees while we waited.

We rode up Quincy-La Porte Road (National Forest Road 120) in mostly 60-degree temperatures. It's about 30 miles of forest, mostly uphill, with numerous switch-backs and narrow sections, lots of gear-changing, very little traffic and beautiful vistas all around.

Being a city-dweller, I was intrigued by the signs indicating that when it snows, the road is simply closed. It's not plowed or maintained, you just can't get through. Kind of like some of the Sierra passes over to U.S. Highway 395 that CalTrans simply closes for a few months each winter.

We arrived in La Porte about 9:30 a.m., 70 degrees, to find the breakfast place closed with no explanation. We schmoozed with a couple of local residents at the store, and they told us about another restaurant down the road.

After another hour of scenic forest riding, this time partly downhill, we arrived in the community of Brownsville, investigated a pancake breakfast at the community center, and stopped in the parking lot of Bonnie Lou's Cafe, where we were virtually the only customers at first. I had orange juice, scrambled eggs, and persuaded the server to bring me cottage cheese instead of something with cholesterol. And just to balance everything else, I had hot chocolate with a hint of raspberry flavor. It was excellent! Others in the group had a wide variety of food, including a "Yumble," described as an inside-out omelette.

Other local residents and travelers stopped for breakfast, as this is evidently the place to be in Brownsville on Sunday mornings. I believe this is where I removed my soft lowers before we got going again.

About noon, we continued down Willow Glen Road, 80 degrees, and then Marysville Road, near Collins Lake, and then merged onto CA Highway 20 in Browns Valley.

We made a short stop at a fruit stand, where I called Dave Clements and left a message about the good time we were having, then continued into Marysville, turned south on Highway 70, stopped for fuel, then continued south onto CA Highway 99, then Interstate 5 and then through the mess that is the city of Sacramento.

After a few tense moments, we all made it through the mess and onto southbound Highway 99 for about 25 miles into Lodi, where it was 84 degrees F., and we stopped at Dennis & Vina's for cold water and an Elvis-sighting. (Their canine.)

Sometime around 3:00 p.m., Mark and I continued south on Interstate 5, stopped for fuel in Lathrop, then continued south. We could have taken the Interstate 205 route through Tracy, but decided not to fight several miles of bumper-to-bumper Sunday-afternoon goin'-home traffic.

We continued another 50 miles to CA Highway 33 in Santa Nella, where we stopped for sore butt syndrome. It was 90 degrees F., and Mark was just about worn out. I pointed out the large windmill at Pea Soup Andersen's, but we did not stop to eat.

We continued a few miles to Highway 152, then turned west, rode past the San Luis Reservoir and through Pacheco Pass to Casa de Fruta, where we stopped for Sportster fuel and I put one pint of oil into the Road King. It was 84 degrees and the gas station was gagged with folks riding and driving home from the races at Laguna Seca.

Shortly after we got back onto Hy 152, Mark turned south on Hy 156 and headed for home in Hollister, I continued into Gilroy and turned north on U.S. 101, fought four lanes of cars and motorcycles for 20 miles, turned north on Hy 85 and arrived home at 6:20 p.m., 80 degrees F.

Miles for the day = 338; miles for the trip = 849. Scenery observed = priceless.

Thanks to Dennis for organizing and leading the ride!

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Created on July 25, 2005. Updated on July 25, 2005.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA